Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on Oct. 12—recognized in Latin America as Día de La Raza—issued an official apology to indigenous communities in the Amazon for deaths and destruction caused by the rubber boom beginning a century ago. From 1912 to 1929 the Peruvian firm Casa Arana, led by rubber baron Julio César Arana with British backing, exploited rubber near La Chorrera in what is now Colombia's Amazonas department. Up 100,000 people were killed and communities devastated in the operations, with indigenous rainforest dwellers forced into slave labor and slain or displaced if they resisted. The situation was brought to the world's attention following an investigation by British diplomat Roger Casement, who had previously documented similar atrocities in the Belgian Congo.
In his official statement, Santos said: "Today, in the name of the Colombian State, I ask forgiveness from the communities of the Uitoto, Bora, Okaina, Muinane, Andoque, Nonuya, Miraña, Yukuna and Matapí peoples for your deaths, for your orphans, for your victims." He said he hoped his statement would "contribute to healing the wounds that this has left in your lives and in the memory of our nation." In comments to the press, he added that the government of the day "failed to understand the importance of safeguarding each indigenous person and culture as an essential part of a society we now understand as multi-ethnic and multicultural." While Santos' official statement used to the word "tragedy" to describe the devastation, and editorial in Bogotá's El Tiempo used the word "genocide." (An Phoblacht, Oct. 13; BBC News, Presidencia de la República statement, Oct. 12; El Tiempo, Oct. 10)